Another legislative session is in the record books. The 2016 General Assembly adjourned for the year last week — a few days earlier than the legal end date. So what did they do? Depending on whom you ask the legislature either did plenty or not nearly enough. Only a fraction of the bills proposed got a hearing and fewer still made it out to reach the governor's desk. Here are a few that caught our attention, for better or for worse.
Bills that passed:
HB 1001 – Road funding
Nearly $1 billion will be allocated toward improving Indiana roads (state and local) over the next two years. The bill does not raise taxes for Hoosiers, but acquires money from the state's budgeting reserves. This plan takes a penny and a half of gasoline sales tax for funding. The bill will also create a task force designed to come up with a long-term road funding plan, members chosen by the governed and INDOT. A main concern for those who opposed the bill in legislation is that the bill is a short-term solution to an ongoing, long-term problem. This bill includes compromised funding for other programs, like Pence's Regional Cities Plan and Bosma's high school scholarship program.
HB 1002 – Education
This bill gives future teachers scholarship money for college. Future educators could have their higher education paid in its entirety by the state, providing incentive for a next generation of teachers to enter the profession. The bill sets aside $7,500 per year for four years for eligible candidates. No more than 200 students can be eligible for the scholarship per year, and no student can receive more than $30,000 dollars total. The program begins in 2017, and the bill provides specific criteria for eligibility. Ten million dollars has been set aside in the bill for this program. Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, a Democrat who represents the seventh congressional district in Indianapolis, says the bill is "one of the most pro-teacher pieces of legislation to pass out of the Indiana General Assembly in the past decade."
HB 1012 – Developmental disability card & bracelet
This bill allows the State Department of Health to develop and establish an identification card and a bracelet for Hoosiers medically diagnosed with a developmental disability, including those with autism spectrum disorder. The ID cards and bracelets would be made available for a fee and information provided to the health department on card applications would be confidential. Rep. Ed Koch (R-Bedford) presented the need for the cards as a way for law enforcement situations, retail situations and other scenarios subject to potential misunderstanding to be diffused. While the need for public awareness on developmental disabilities and autism spectrum disorder is apparent, it is unclear how an ID card would help that awareness. The burden of awareness is placed on the cardholder and not those in the public who would encounter that individual. Would people who encounter someone with a card understand what exactly that means or understand how a person's disorder factors into the given scenario? Will law enforcement be trained on how to look for or ask for the ID cards in proper situations? The bill does not specify when and how the cards and/or bracelets could be or should be used.
HB 1019 – Police body cameras
This bill aims to restrict public records requests for law enforcement recordings, and requires a court order to release recorded police body camera video. This bill creates a strict procedure for the consideration of releasing law enforcement videos. The bill "specifies the procedure to obtain a court order for the release of a law enforcement recording, and requires a court to expedite the proceedings," thus decreasing public access to these recordings. In order to obtain a recording, the request must include the date, location and time of recording, and the name of one person other than the officer involved in the incident. Basically, this bill adds an unnecessary process of legalities in order for an organization or person to obtain law enforcement recordings, which disincentives people from wanting to request a recording.
HB 1053 – Regulation of packaging materials (plastic bags ban)
This legislation prohibits local governments from restricting the use of single-use plastic bags through taxes or bans. Some cities, towns and counties have passed policies that encourage businesses and residents to use more environmentally friendly methods of carrying items, especially food items. Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Chandler) presented the bill as something that is a detriment to the bag manufacturers and only glossed over the issue of "home rule" or rather local government control. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact that such a prohibition would have on communities, especially those who can't afford or enforce universal recycling programs. More disturbing, however, is the heavy-handed state governmental response that it knows more of what is important to communities than the communities themselves.
HB 1337 – Abortion
This bill prohibits women from seeking an abortion if they learn that their fetus has genetic abnormalities. It also holds abortion providers responsible for burying or cremating fetal remains. The bill makes the donation of fetal tissue a felony. Planned Parenthood issued a statement saying that the legislation is "particularly cruel in that it's designed to shame and demean a woman who is facing tragic circumstances with a lethal fetal anomaly." This bill will make Indiana only the second state in the nation to ban abortion based on fetal abnormalities. Rep. Sean Eberhart, Republican, has said this is "a perfect example a bunch of middle-aged guys sitting in this room making decisions about what we think is best for women. We need to quit pretending we know what's best for women and their health care needs." Take note of this quote, HB 1337 supporters. Take note.
HB 1386 – Various alcohol, tobacco and e-liquid matters
This bill is another example of state government versus local government. The bill includes many things including allowing certain retailers to sell booze the day of the Indianapolis 500. But the problem with the bill lies in the language that grants an alcohol permit to a development project at the Indiana Dunes State Park. The proposal was denied on the local level due to public outcry. Local residents didn't want alcohol sold and served in the park, so project managers took their case to the state for a different outcome. As a result, public imput on alcohol service in state parks is completely eliminated. As the Hoosier Environmental Council says, "[The Department of Natural Resources] DNR should be in the business of protecting our state parks — not serving the economic interests of private developers."
SB 61 – Voting matters (straight ticket except at-large seats)
This legislation puts a new provision in place for straight ticket voters. Some legislators have tried for some time to eliminates the ability for a general election voter to fill in one box and vote for every eligible candidate affiliated with that party. This legislation is the beginning of that landslide. Voters will still be able to vote for the entire slate of their respective party, except for local offices where more than one individual can be elected. For instance, a city or town council may have three available at-large seats. Each party will have 3 candidates for a total of six people on the ballot and the three with the most votes are elected. With this new legislation a voter will have to choose three individual candidates instead of their straight ticket vote counting the three candidates from his or her party. The measure passed both chambers along party lines with a few Republicans voting joining Democrats in voting against it. The biggest obstacle will come in educating the public on the new rules. Certain races could end in different-than-expected results if too many straight ticket voters forget to vote in those multicandidate races.
SB 109 – Hunting matters (legalized canned hunting)
It has taken a few years, but the Legislature was finally able to pass a bill legalizing fenced hunting in Indiana. The bill takes care of four facilities in the state that already had fenced hunting operations and ignored the advice of multiple groups ranging from environmentalists to hunters themselves. Those opposed say fenced hunting preserves violate the principle of "fair chase" and say such facilities do nothing to assist in the state's wildlife management initiatives. Most of Indiana's hunting laws were created for animal control and not business opportunities. Another concern is how fenced hunting facilities will affect the health of Indiana's wildlife. Although the Board of Animal Health will have oversight of the facilities, there is still a concern of captive animals escaping and potentially infecting wildlife with disease. The ethical and environmental questions remain as the state allows a few folks to make a buck or two.
Bills that didn't (but should have)
SB 2 – Civil rights (Democratic version)
This bill is relatively short and simple. "Prohibited discrimination in civil rights statutes. Amends civil rights enforcement statutes to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability, veteran status, and ancestry." The fact that this practically "no-brainer" bill didn't pass should give Hoosiers good insight into the current state of our General Assembly.
SB 208 – Clean Power Plan
It seems that major environmental bills were completely shut down by the Legislature this 2016 session. This bill would have required the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, something that the state has been needing to do. This bill would have also established the Clean Power Plan Committee, dedicated to the issue of clean power in Indiana. It would have required the state to develop a detailed plan for submission to the EPA, so that Indiana could get on track with federal guidelines and regulations regarding the environment. The state has a legal responsibility to devise a Clean Power Plan in accordance with the EPA, and by not passing this bill, the state is ignoring that responsibility.
SB 209/SB 258/HB 1098/ HB 1158 – Medical marijauna; cannabidiol for treatment of seizures; cannabis oil for medical treatment
The good news is there were more bills this year proposed to try to bring cannabis and marijuana to the healthcare conversation than ever before. As we learn more and more about cannabis and its properties, more people are beginning to see the potential for various types of medical treatment. (Let's take the little victories as we can get them.) Unfortunately none of these bills made it out of committee. Hopefully they will come back next year with a new Legislature to hear them.
SB 322 – Repeal of marriage language restricting marriage to one man and one woman
Yet another "no-brainer" bill that never made it out of committee. The U.S. Supreme Court has already made marriage equality a reality for the entire country. By keeping the language in Indiana Code as stating marriage is exclusive "between one man and one woman" is an insult to same sex couples across the state and a public statement of what our Legislature really thinks of the federal judicial system.